RRP’s Favourite Albums of 2015

First, a confession: 2015 has been a strange and vaguely disconnected year. It began in Hungary, shifted back to England, and ended in the realisation that I didn’t have much of a clue about which new albums I’d actually managed to listen to since January. A severe income shortage resulted in missing out on (or not yet having enough time to quite figure out how I felt about) a host of releases that might otherwise have found their way into this final run-down. Some of those you might find pictured above, but not written about below.

That said, some elements of this list I knew all along: my #1 album, for example. It’s not an uplifting album, and in a personally not altogether uplifting year perhaps not an obvious choice of companion, but I struggle to think of another album that’s captivated and moved me in quite the same way in all my years of searching.

As for the rest? Well, you should give them all a go, but for the most part don’t get too hung up on the placement, relative or absolute. I’m sure you can’t believe I like A more than B, but you can be just as sure that to me this is not a very interesting observation: all these albums are wonderful in their own way. In my opinion, yes, but in my heart also, which is where this selection comes from. Please treat it kindly.

25 Marika Hackman – We Slept At Last

Released and listened to back in the first months of the year, We Slept At Last almost feels like something from a different lifetime altogether. Add to that its ghostly, ethereal atmosphere, symbolism, tragic heroines, tragic happenings, and you have a very unsettling beast, but one that you nonetheless can’t resist getting just close enough to in the hope of feeling the sweet pain of a glancing blow.

24 Static in Verona – Odd Anthem

Given that I managed to review less than a handful of albums in the whole of 2015, and this was one of them, and given how blown away I was at the time, there should be no surprise to see Odd Anthem pop up here. Your first thought should be: how have I not heard this before? Your second thought should be: how fortunate am I to live in an age where artists will let you download this sort of anthemic music for free? Your third thought should be: actually, if I like it, maybe I should pay for it, so Rob Merz feels like making another one.

23 The Leisure Society – The Fine Art of Hanging On

In a world of music critics falling over themselves to say something impressive about important music, is it a dereliction of my duty as a writer to retreat, once again, to familiar ground? Or is it enough that I find Nick Hemming’s way of combining a tune with its lyric so beguiling and exquisite that The Fine Art of Hanging On feels, to me at least, in my comfortable, white middle class western European environs, surrounded by wildlife and calm (as long as the neighbours have gone out), just as worthwhile, albeit for very different reasons.

Consider the birds…

22 Jemima Surrender – The Uninhabited World

Cheer up Jenny you’ll soon be dead
Can’t you make an effort for me dear?

Jemima Surrender -The Uninhabited WorldSmart and sharp, Jemima Surrender’s debut album The Uninhabited World revealed a band of wit with the songwriting and guitar-crunching chops (often in a 90s-indie style, if you’ll pardon the over-used comparison) to more than back up the threats. The tracklisting reads like a roll-call of characters up to no good (“Thomas Quick”, “Gentleman Jerk”), those having no good done unto them (“Sylvia”, “Jenny”), and generally inauspicious-sounding events (“Something Awful”, “The Cull”, “In Sickness”). The overall result is as dark as it is glorious.

21 The Maccabees – Marks To Prove It

The Maccabees - Marks To Prove ItEarning its place here as much as anything for the element of surprise, Marks To Prove It is a great example of how good things can happen to those with open minds. I’d previously associated The Maccabees with what is often (somewhat cruelly) known as “landfill indie” – a movement characterised by a dullness of tone, complexion and melody. Marks To Prove It, however, suffers from none of the above, rising from the morass with energy and verve.

20 C Duncan – Architect

C Duncan - ArchitectLet’s hear it for the Mercury Prize, shall we? OK, so it took a FIFA-esque amount of time for BBC 6 Music to announce the complete shortlist, and by the end there was the somewhat unpleasant stench of a list selected mostly on the basis that it would all be palatable enough for that station’s audience. Which is not a criticism of said audience – after all, I’m a proud member of the “6 Music is actually a pretty good station, all things considered” club. It was just a bit unexciting, is all.

It did, however, introduce me to C Duncan, for which I’m very grateful indeed. Architect is full of electro-acoustic atmosphere, all breathy vocals and gently undulating melodies. It’s as unassuming as it is entrancing.

19 Jennie Vee – Spying

Jennie Vee - SpyingAt the same time as playing bass for both Tamaryn and Courtney Love, Jennie Vee has assuredly been building a solo career. Early EPs and cover versions were followed in 2015 by her full length debut.

Spying – “inspired by love, heartbreak, NYC life and finding the light in the dark” – is the dream-pop-punk album you’ve probably forgotten you were waiting for these past 20 years or so. Hooks aplenty, and no excuse for not being carried along on the album’s sheer verve if you ask me.

18 Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People

Ezra Furman - Perpetual Motion PeopleWhat a perplexingly rewarding album we find in Perpetual Motion People! There are moments during “Hour of Deepest Need” when I’m reminded of listening to After The Gold Rush-era Neil Young for the first time, minus the divisive Young vocal. It’s an outlier on an album of outliers: irrepressible brass stabs pop up here and there; sax plays a surprisingly big role; doo-wop is occasionally deployed as a deterrent. It’s hard to know what to make of it, but perhaps the best advice you could ever give anyone listening to something for the first time comes in the opening lines of Ordinary Life:

I’m sick of this record already
let’s wreck all the preconceived notions we bring to it
check all the baggage or better yet burn it
and start all over again

17 Pinkshinyultrablast – Everything Else Matters

Pinkshinyultrablast - Everything Else MattersWhile listening to Everything Else Matters for this end of year review there was a moment near the beginning of “Metamorphosis” when my media played wigged out and embarked on an infinite loop of a few bars. Crescendo / fade / crescendo / fade… So beat-perfect was the cut it took me a surprisingly long time to remember that something was up. Now, that probably tells you something about my pre-lunch focus levels, but it’s also a mark of how Everything Else Matters is more about the flow between ethereal dream-pop and hard-hitting walls of guitar and the thrill of cutting between the two, than it is about hits and killer hooks. You can’t just dip a toe into this plunge pool and hope to be invigorated, but immerse yourself and you’ll be rewarded.

16 Torres – Sprinter

Torres - SprinterMackenzie Scott’s second album is (auto)biographical, intense, and utterly compelling. Just don’t call it confessional.

Sprinter hits you with quiet, devastating blows, as on “Ferris Wheel” and the laying bare of closing track “The Exchange”, but also fights with the beauty of rage and a 90s guitar on “New Skin” and the title track.

15 Annalibera – Nevermind I Love You

Annalibera - Nevermind I Love YouThat Nevermind I Love You contains a good deal of emotional and musical depth should not surprise: singer Anna Gebhardt grew up around folk music, studied classical, and for a time was in a relationship with guitarist Ryan Stier. Bloom is their post-breakup song, while “Black Cat White Cat” takes in homesickness and the corresponding guilt of being away. Proving once again the power of the personal connection, it came at a time when I was ready to return to England, ready to start again. I’ve carried it in my heart ever since.

It’s about how we say, “Let’s not deal with our bullshit. Let’s stay safe and keep doing this the wrong way because we’re scared, okay? Because I can just say I love you and we feel better for a second”.Anna Gebhardt

14 The Lonely Wild – Chasing White Light

The Lonely Wild - Chasing White LightYou can download “An Introduction to The Lonely Wild” from Noisetrade. There, it suggests the band as being:

For Fans Of: Arcade Fire, Lord Huron, Calexico, Fleet Foxes, Ennio Morricone

If you can imagine Arcade Fire without some of the Glee school theatrics, Calexico with hearts of darkness, and a tilting Ennio Morricone then you more or less have it. Recorded with John Vanderslice guiding the band through a more fluidly developing recording process than on debut album The Sun As It Comes, Chasing White Light is the americana your soul has been crying out for.

13 Hooton Tennis Club – Highest Point in Cliff Town

Hooton Tennis Club - Highest Point In Cliff TownI don’t really want to play “hey, d’ya know who this reminds me of?”, but let’s just agree on Pavement meets Teenage Fanclub for this one. Except the strange thing is, there isn’t one era of TFC that Highest Point in Cliff Town particularly feels like so much as a general feeling. Or perhaps it’s the sense that they’ve cut their sound from the same power-pop cloth, even if they’ve fashioned a more raucous, reckless garment from it.

12 Lisa Alma – Sweater

Lisa Alma - SweaterIf Club 8 (spoiler alert: see below…) are the party inside the white walls and glass of a modernist house overlooking the sea, Sweater is the grass in the wind and the swirling sand outside. Its beauty, eerily silent when observed from the home’s sleek interior, can only be felt by stepping outside and drinking in the sounds, the smells, the exfoliating feel of the grains.

Perhaps you feel that offers no true explanation of the album. Perhaps you should give it a go and report back.

11 Joanna Gruesome – Peanut Butter

Joanna Gruesome - Peanut ButterIf I missed this on its release it’s perhaps because when I’d listened to Joanna Gruesome in the past I hadn’t managed to get through the scuzz and the fuzz to the sweetness that lies beneath. Encouraged by a friend to give Peanut Butter a go, I heard instantly what I’d failed to spot before, namely a super-abundance of silver linings in the Joanna Gruesome clouds. Like Club 8’s Pleasure, Peanut Butter is short enough to be a lingering EP, but as an album its a short sharp indie-pop high.

10 Susanne Sundfør – Ten Love Songs

Susanne Sundfør - Ten Love SongsHalf way through Ten Love Songs, the ten-minute “Memorial” appears. It starts out all ballady, teetering between 80s power ballads you love and 80s power ballads you love, but only ironically. It then has a dangerously lingering glance over at musical theatre, and spends several minutes indulging in romanticism, before remembering what it came in for and closing out with more of its opening melody. It is the most unexpectedly brilliant delight of the year.

In its own way it encapsulates what makes Ten Love Songs so gloriously enriching, so completely enjoyable. This is pop done big, done right, never more so than on euroelectropop single of the year, “Fade Away”.

9 Stornoway – Bonxie

Stornoway - BonxieIf Club 8 are… if Lisa Alma is… (see below, see above…) then Bonxie is the naturalist striding with full-hearted joy through the landscape, charting the movements and patterns of the indigenous wildlife. Bucolic indie-folk with sweet lyrics, a knitted sweater and a penchant for David Attenborough homage, and what’s not to like about that? From opening track “Between The Saltmarsh And The Sea”, replete with foghorn into synth chord intro, all the way through to “Love Song Of The Beta Male”, Bonxie is pure delight.

8 Michael Price – Entanglement

Michael Price - EntanglementFile under: Modern Classical. Except don’t: file under transporting modern music, or don’t even file at all. Just keep it out front where you can see it, play regularly, and cherish every note. When your friends pop over for a soiree and enquire about it, tell them it’s by the bloke who did the Sherlock theme. How much of the rest you want to share is entirely up to you.

If my friends ask, I’ll tell them that the announcement you can just about make out at the beginning of “Budapest” was recorded one morning on Metro Line 1, at Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út station. It’s an announcement I’ve heard hundreds of times; knowing it was a part of the inspiration behind the music it prefaces adds so much personal resonance with the music and only makes me love Entanglement all the more.

7 The Unthanks – Mount The Air

The Unthanks - Mount The Air (single)Music serves many masters, performing a multitude of duties for them all: for some, rebellion; for others, validation. From the thrilling calm of The Unthanks there comes a tantalising glimpse of other worlds, of stories become real, legends transformed into fact. Above all, there’s the opportunity to listen to awe-inspiring harmonies and melodies, and exquisite story-telling and to never once have to feel guilty that you found it in the section marked “Folk”.

6 Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just SitYou don’t “get” Courtney Barnett. I get that. You don’t see what the fuss is about. I get that, too. You don’t like her voice, and the music’s not all that, so why exactly is everyone going nuts for her?

That, I can’t say. I can say where my love comes from, though: it could be the lyrics, it could be the attitude, or even a combination of the two: smart and knowing, arch and self-deprecating, not so much a stream of consciousness as a carefully laid brick wall. Each barb, whether it’s directed in or out, pricks something or someone; each word plays games of its own design. It’s a document of sorts, written in the razor-sharp observations of a drifter’s mind.

Head on over to page 2 for my top five albums of 2015.

Albums Of The Year – 2015

It’s been a big year for new music and I think I can safely say that I have bought more albums this year than in previous. So, when I considered how to approach my top albums of 2015, I decided to do a bit of reading of the big music magazines and websites first of all to see what they had to say for themselves. It was a varied bunch, including lots of albums I hadn’t even heard of, but there were also certain trends running throughout. Never one to stick with the norm though, I’ve gone for a slightly off-centre route to get to my favourites.

Looking back over this year’s music, what I’m compiling my list based on are the albums I bought and have listened to on a regular basis rather than just the once. I would prefer to try and give a more rounded opinion rather than just say that I bought the record cos everyone else did. And there have certainly been a fair few albums that I’ve purchased and only listened to once so far. I didn’t think it would be fair to just join the crowd and say “this is brilliant” because a review gave it 5 stars elsewhere. That’s just not me.

I am nothing if not honest, so my list focuses on the albums that have got well and truly under my skin. The ones I can’t stop playing and want other people to love too. Here goes…

5. Squeeze – Cradle to the Grave

squeeze-cradleIt may not be everyone’s choice of a top album of the year, but seeing as it had taken Squeeze 17 years since their last studio album to release some brand new material, I felt it should be on the list somewhere. Cradle to the Grave is a collection of new and original songs which was born out of the TV series of the same name. The wonderful song writing skills of Difford and Tilbrook are firmly found here and it’s quintessentially and most definitely Squeeze. Recommended.

Essential tracks: “Cradle to the Grave” | “Nirvana”

4. Mark Morriss – The Taste of Mark Morriss

Mark Morriss - The Taste Of Mark Morriss

In the same vain as my number 3 album, I’m sure those who know me would have predicted that Mr Morriss would make an appearance in my top albums list. His third studio release, The Taste of Mark Morriss is indeed just as the title suggests. It’s an album of cover versions based on the songs that have not only inspired him, but also those that have helped to shape the direction in which his career in music has taken. But it’s not just a plain and simple covers album, oh no. It’s something a little bit more than that and comes with the added instruction that it should be played loudly. On a yacht. Read a full review of the album here.

Essential tracks: “Souvenir” | “Lucretia (My Reflection)” | “Love Comes Quickly”

3. Thee Cee Cees – Solution Songs

Thee Cee Cees - Solution Songs

Being the massive fan of The Bluetones that I am, when I heard that guitarist Adam Devlin was part of a new band (and a political one to boot) I knew that I would probably like what they had to say. And I wasn’t wrong. With an amazing line up of great musicians such as Chris T-T and Billy Brentford, this is a gorgeous sounding album full of cracking tunes with a clear message. You can read a full review of the album here.

Essential tracks: “Soapbox” | “Have an Analysis”

2. Public Service Broadcasting – The Race for Space

Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space

Again this was another album that I picked up to see what all the hype was about. Someone had been trying to get me to listen to the band a few years ago, but their description was so bad that I thought “well that sounds like a load of old rubbish”, so I didn’t bother. Jump to this year and I decided to give it a listen and bought The Race for Space.

I have to say that on the first listen I wasn’t that taken in, but I gave it time and after a couple of listens I finally got it. The concept, the use of the broadcasts, the music, it all makes sense and I thoroughly enjoy listening to it. So much so, that I am off to see them in concert next year and am very much looking forward to experiencing this live.

Essential tracks: “Go!” | “Gagarin”

1. Tame Impala – Currents

Tame Impala - Currents

My top album of this year is Currents by Australian band Tame Impala. I wasn’t very aware of the previous releases and didn’t actually know that much about the band to be honest. I say band, it’s really just Kevin Parker who wrote, performed, recorded and produced the whole album himself.

I heard a lot of talk about the album when some of the tracks were made available before the actual album release so I decided to see what all the fuss was about. What I have found is basically an album that I cannot stop playing. And I mean cannot stop. In fact, I have it on in the background now while I’m writing this and it has been on constantly for the last few days on a loop. You could say I am mildly obsessed with it.

I think not having any sort of attachment to the previous albums has meant that I can listen to the record and just appreciate it for what it is. And what it is for me is the future. It’s a beautifully produced and constructed album and I can feel the labour of love that Kevin has put into making it. It’s probably what you would class as dance orientated music as it features a greater amount of synthesizers rather than guitars (which are on the previous albums) and for me this fits perfectly with the feel of the album and the themes that are running through it. Lyrically it’s spot on and although there are a couple of tracks that I don’t really get (“Nangs” and “Past Life”), it’s still an extremely strong piece of work and is highly, highly recommended.

Essentials tracks: “Let it Happen” | “The Moment” | “The Less I Know the Better”

Albums bubbling under

Gaz Coombes – Matador
Richard Hawley – Hollow Meadows
Frank Turner – Positive Songs for Negative People
Wilco – Star Wars
The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

Albums of the Year playlist, 2014

I was tempted to call this playlist “The Arkhive”, making use of a clever pun based on the Spotify version consisting of two tracks from each of my favourite 25 albums of the year, but sense prevailed. Instead, a rather literal title, seeing as this is indeed a playlist covering the albums of the year, the year being 2014.

50 tracks if you Spotify, 25 if Youtube (but with the odd bonus live or session recording thrown in plus some tracks that you won’t find on the Spotify version).

RRP’s favourite albums of 2014 / Part 2: #5 to #1

And so to the business end of the “Albums of 2014” countdown. Without, as they say, further ado…

5. Woman’s Hour – Conversations

Woman's Hour - Conversations

2014 really does seem to have been the year my taste for elegant simplicity revealed itself more than ever. Conversations was as sleekly minimal and precise as the monochrome of its cover image implied. Not that it wasn’t beautiful: Woman’s Hour showed throughout the album’s 11 tracks that they had a knack for opening up a song with a deft touch here, and a flourish there. Cool, maybe even cold at times, but far from emotionless, Conversations was a beautifully poised debut.

4. St. Vincent – St. Vincent

St. Vincent - St. Vincent

You might have noticed St. Vincent in 2014. You’d have been hard pressed not to; 2014 was the year Annie Clark went from celebrated outsider to Letterman star, catwalk soundtrack curator, 6 Music “wise woman”, and the art-rock auteur everyone scrambled to love the most. But St. Vincent is well worth the praise: the album’s strong, full of bold strokes, and the first half is practically perfect. If there are mis-steps towards the end they can surely be forgiven when they are trying their best to follow “Digital Witness”, “Prince Johnny”, “I Prefer Your Love” and “Rattlesnake” – tracks that could have lifted almost any album into the top 5. Throughout a busy year, St. Vincent proved herself as an outstanding live act, combining a performer’s sense for the dramatic with the flair and brilliance of her consummate guitar work.

3. King Creosote – From Scotland With Love

King Creosote - From Scotland With Love

Buy the album, watch the film that it scores and for which it provides the sole narration: you will surely love both. Throughout Kenny Anderson’s prolific career seldom has he reached such consistently brilliant emotive heights as on From Scotland With Love. Working alongside Virginia Heath’s film, itself a re-purposing of archive footage – scenes of Scottish life old and older, carefree and poignant – Anderson reworks some of his existing songs: the heart-tugging “One Floor Down” started life in 1988; “Miserable Strangers” builds into the familiar loop of “678”; and “Something To Believe In” was born from the melody of “A Prairie Tale”, these last two providing the perfect start and finish to the album. Alongside these newly developed works sit new gems like the coming in and going out of the tide that is “Cargill”, and the Friday night dancehall whirl of “For One Night Only”.

2. The Twilight Sad – Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave

The Twilight Sad - Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave

Can it really be seven years already since the release of The Twilight Sad’s fierce, glowering debut album Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters? Apparently so, and revisiting it now reveals that tracks like “That Summer, At Home I Had Become The Invisible Boy” have lost none of their ability to give goosebumps of intangible joy and uncertain confusion. Now three more albums down the line, and despite line-up changes, crises of confidence, and shifts in sound (first more noise was added, then it was stripped away again) they’re still an awkward and sinister-sounding bunch. The titles alone, especially imagined curling out with James Graham’s accented delivery, are foreboding enough: “There’s A Girl In The Corner”, “Drown So I Can Watch”, “Pills I Swallow”, “Sometimes I Wished I Could Fall Asleep”. The sound – gloomy post-punk plus morose electronic flourishes – only adds weight to the atmosphere.

A late contender (and close contender) for album of the year, Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave sees The Twilight Sad at their dark and imposing best.

1. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There

Sharon Van Etten - Are We There

The first indication that hopes and expectations for Sharon Van Etten’s follow-up to Tramp would be met (and then some) by Are We There came with the surfacing of “Taking Chances” in early March. Beautiful vocals, shades of dark and light, and soft, calm production interrupted only by the crashing in of the guitar in the chorus were encouraging signs indeed. When the album’s last track “Every Time The Sun Comes Up” was released shortly before the album itself, excitement was once more raised – Van Etten effortlessly sliding through the notes while the band gently bubbles away behind, keeping to the corners and not getting in the way.

The rest of Are We There didn’t disappoint. Not a bit of it. In parts it exceeded expectations, and in “Your Love is Killing Me” provided the most devastating song of the year. Pain and hurt rarely sounds so good as here; it would make for a difficult listen if it wasn’t for the beauty of each “you like it” refrain.

Break my legs so I won’t walk to you
Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you
Burn my skin so I can’t feel you
Stab my eyes so I can’t see
You like it when I let you walk over me
You tell me that you like it
Your love is killing me

The fact that this album, this deeply intimate and personal document, doesn’t end up bogged down in its own emotional baggage is down to Van Etten’s knack for the disarming, and moments where her voice and the melody her band is playing are so downright beautiful that as Van Etten herself undergoes musical catharsis you’re left consoled in her wake.

Outstanding, continually remarkable, and RRP’s album of the year: Are We There.

RRP’s favourite albums of 2014 / Part 1: #25 to #6

Well this wasn’t easy, for a number of reasons. At the end of a year in which I’d listened to plenty of new music I was half expecting to struggle to whittle down an enormous longlist to a more manageable number, but somewhere along the line I realised that a lot of my time in 2014 was spent listening to EPs, singles, and new music from artists who hadn’t got as far as releasing their debut album. Because of this, having started with around 100 albums, I felt I couldn’t justify listing more than a quarter of them in an end of year list.

Of those that remained there were a few outstanding releases, and a large number of very good albums: the ones I’ve chosen to include just happened to grab my attention a little more than those I’ve left out, but there’s a wealth of material I could cover in another list: “25 albums I inexplicably failed to pay sufficient attention to, or which simply didn’t cross my path in 2014”.

So, enjoy this first instalment of the countdown – I hope you find something to give a first or second listen to.

25. Alvvays – Alvvays

Alvvays - Alvvays

Sometimes with indie-pop it might seem like you don’t get much for your money. Case in point: the self-titled debut from Canadian indie-pop masters Alvvays. It clocks in at 9 tracks and a running time of just over half an hour. And if you count your musical wealth by the weight of complex instrumentation and baffling and rapid key changes you might consider yourself somewhat out of pocket from it. If, on the other hand, you’re a fan of irresistible hooks, perfectly spaced and accreted, and rolling waves of vocals, you’ll see Alvvays in a far more positive light.

24. Cherry Ghost – Herd Runners

Cherry Ghost - Herd Runners

While listening to this under-the-radar gem, the third album from Simon Alred’s Cherry Ghost, think about the critical acclaim heaped (quite rightly) upon, say, Richard Hawley, and ask yourself why the same hasn’t been true of Herd Runners (or, largely, its predecessors Beneath This Burning Shoreline and Thirst For Romance). If you come up with an answer, do let me know, because I haven’t the foggiest. Suspiciously “classic” sounding for the alt crowd, too oblique for everyone else perhaps? Whatever – lyrical soft centers crash into hard edges, while beautiful melodies and sumptuous arrangements and production fill the air. Take some time to love and cherish Herd Runners.

23. East India Youth – Total Strife Forever

East India Youth - Total Strife Forever

Try to skim your way through William Doyle’s debut album as East India Youth and you’ll trip over a confusing arrangement of digital paving slabs that don’t, in fact, appear to lead anywhere. This is not an album that makes much sense piecemeal. Sandwiched between the combined vocal richness of “Dripping Down” and “Heaven, How Long”, “Hinterland” is a textured interlude. Drop yourself in out of context, however, and you might struggle to get your bearings. Total Strife Forever plays with you in this way from start to finish, demonstrating the vast scope and emotional scale that can be wrung from smart, considered electronic production.

22. Andrew Montgomery – Ruled By Dreams

Andrew Montgomery - Ruled By Dreams

There was always the feeling that Geneva left with the scent of unfulfilled promise hanging in the air. If Andrew Montgomery’s solo career continues as richly as it did on his debut album it’s a promise that may yet be repaid. There are a couple of moments that take you back to his Britpop days, but wisely Ruled By Dreams mostly concentrates on providing the right musical flourishes (and it doesn’t hurt that Richard Oakes is on board) to bring out the best of Montgomery’s sometimes breathtaking vocals.

21. Ballet School – The Dew Lasts An Hour

Ballet School - The Dew Lasts an Hour

“We write pop songs. I never thought pop music was a lower form of art. We actively try to play with the model of mainstream pop against what indie is supposed to be and find our own new form” So said Ballet School’s lead singer Rosie Blair in interview. Listen to The Dew Lasts An Hour and you’ll hear the pop shine through. You’ll also hear a lush reproduction of old-school synth-pop that feels in no way dated, old or cliched. You’ll even get a bit of Cocteau Twins thrown in for your money, and who could not warm to that?

20. Manic Street Preachers – Futurology

Manic Street Preachers - Futurology

If you’d called me up this time last year and told me I’d be putting the Manics in my end of year list I’d have laughed, and laughed some more. Not that I’ve ever really disliked them, but there’s only so many times a man can be told “oh, but Motorcycle Emptiness….” without building an irrational defensive wall against a subject. Then there was that time I saw them doing bad things to a perfectly innocent The The song. And the feeling that they’d got a bit stale in twilight years of Britpop. Still, I saw enthusiastic reports of Futurology, and as soon as I had eventually brought myself round to the idea of giving it a go I saw how accurate they were. Maybe I’m just growing comfortably old with them now, but this is not the dull and worthy Manics I was expecting: Futurology bursts with life and creativity, and in “The Next Jet To Leave Moscow” includes one of the highlights of 2014.

19. Seasurfer – Dive In

Seasurfer - Dive In

Their label (the excellent Saint Marie records) describe the Seasurfer sound as “dreampunk”. It’s a heady mix of shoegazing, dream-pop and ethereal sounds; at times you can feel like losing yourself in the vast swirling deep of their debut album Dive In. You could try to fight it, but better just to let all the textures flow around you.

18. Space Daze – Follow My Light Back Home

Space Daze - Follow My Light Back Home

Sound the hipster klaxxon, sound it long, and sound it as hard and proud as your coarse and calloused non-hipster hands can take the pain, because this summer I bought Follow My Light Back Home on cassette. That’s right: magnetic tape. Take that, FLAC fans!

Seapony’s Danny Rowland set out to write a song every day for a month, and didn’t quite manage it. But he did, recording as Space Daze, come up with Follow My Light Back Home, 12 summer strolls along the gentle country lane of mellow indie-pop. Think Real Estate with an over-enthusiastic metronome and the sun slightly higher in the sky.

17. Astronauts – Hollow Ponds

Astronauts - Hollow Ponds

Another album with a slightly unusual gestation: Dan Carney, having broken a leg, was holed up, recovering, and started writing songs that dealt with his temporary physical and mental separation – the feeling of wanting to explore the neighboring areas, the sad knowledge that he was unable to. The result was an album (plus an EP) of songs under the name Astronauts that circle over the ground, always looking down, but never able to land.

16. Owl John – Owl John

Owl John - Owl John

Sometimes the line between band and solo albums can seem confusingly blurry to those of us who’ve never been through the recording process. When (and it’s often the case) it’s the work of the band’s lead singer, the similarities are there for all to hear. Perhaps still on a high after releasing what he saw as Frightened Rabbit’s finest album (Pedestrian Verse), Scott Hutchison took himself off to Mull and recorded a solo album under the name Owl John. The good news for Frightened Rabbit fans is that it’s very nearly the equal of that band’s output, and even if it’s hard to pinpoint at times, there’s definitely something un-rabbity going on. Here’s hoping Hutchison can keep both flags flying.

Sounds of 2014

As the first candles of advent are lit, so too are the fires of the annual “best things of a thing” bunfight. At this time of year you can be sure to find no hiding place from softly softly cover versions accompanying the heartwarming message to buy something slightly above your budgetary comfort zone; so too, the clatter of lists falling over one another in a bid to be first, best, most comprehensive, most controversial, least predictable. Rolling Stone give it a go, too, bless ’em.

This is not one of those lists, though there may yet still be an RRP round-up of the year. I’ll try not to succumb to the easy “best albums” effort, but if it’s what the people want…

No, “A half-decent summary of 2014” is just a number of tracks (I haven’t finalised yet, but let’s think big and aim for 50), in no particular order other than according to the fundamentals of constructing a half-decent playlist – that you take home and use as your “cut out and keep” guide to 2014 that might prompt you into involuntary head-nods. Quite possibly it will give you the odd reflex grimace; optimistically, I hope it will encourage you to check out something you might have missed along the way.